Let's be clear - I'm not talking about the perfectly nice little school on Gifford Farm Road, where Stratham elementary school kids started going in 1990. I'm talking about the sprawling complex on Bunker Hill Ave, built in 1951. The place with the tire dragon we'd jump off to prove our worth, the tire swings we'd race to at recess, and the tire house that mostly housed bees. The place with the cafeteria/gymnasium/multipurpose room where we'd ride scooters over raisins and peanuts and wonder if we'd score a merit award at the next assembly. The place where both my brother Al and I attended grades one through six, back when sixth grade was the elementary school pinnacle and not the outer circle of middle school purgatory.
That's where Mrs. Henneberry in first grade was the meanest teacher I ever knew (mostly because she was the first teacher - of many - I simply couldn't charm). Where Mrs. Gagnon was the best teacher I ever had, maybe the best second grade teacher ever. Where Mrs. Walsh's third grade class learned about death with the passing of classroom aide Mrs. Powers. Where I got my first failing grade on a math test in Ms. White's fourth grade, learning that 1) math wouldn't be my meal ticket, and 2) it might be time to start putting forth a little academic effort. Where Mr. Siulinski's fifth grade class watched the Challenger astronauts slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God. Where Ms. Lee read from The Hobbit and Mr. Nelson did his best to cover sex ed with sarcastic 12-year old boys. Where Mr. Michaud was the best principal I ever knew (apologies to Mr. Borkowski and Mr. Meehan).
There are too many stories and memories from those six years of growing up to try to capture here. Glancing through the pictures below, each of your faces calls to mind some shared laugh in the lunchroom, some altercation on the playground, some old friendship or forgotten enmity. We were a small town, full of small-town kids, trying so hard not to be small any more. We bought our milk for a quarter and wrapped our stories in wallpaper. We made ice forts where the plows piled the snow from the parking lots and even sixth place got a ribbon at Field Day. We arrived in first grade still learning to read, and by sixth grade some of us were having first kisses (not me - though bless Christine Collignon, she tried by that big old tree in the far corner of the soccer field).
Like so many things from childhood, it seems smaller now, shabbier, insufficiently grand. It's the municipal center; Sarah and I filed for absentee ballots at the town clerk's office where we once had third grade, and where the broad, sunny sixth-grade classroom was is now part of the library (where, hey, I've got a book on the shelves - not so Young anymore, but maybe an Author). Nothing lasts forever, of course. And not all of it was great. But memory both preserves and forgives.